Mental Health Commission has ‘serious concerns’ over delays in opening service

Scheme to replace wards of court system delayed again due to lack of funding

A scheme to replace the   wards of court system has been delayed again due to lack of funding.  Photograph: Chris Maddaloni/Collins

A scheme to replace the wards of court system has been delayed again due to lack of funding. Photograph: Chris Maddaloni/Collins

 

A scheme to replace the almost 150-year-old wards of court system has been delayed again due to lack of funding.

The Decision Support Service (DSS), which was committed to by Government in 2015 and has had a chair since 2017, has yet to begin operating.

The Mental Health Commission (MHC) says the repeated failure to open the service puts Ireland in breach of international human rights obligations, raises safe-guarding issues and denies thousands of vulnerable adults a say in basic aspects of their lives.

The planned opening of the DSS in 2018 was delayed with an expectation that it would open this year. However, minutes of meetings of the MHC, under whose auspices it exists, reveal it will not now open this year and there is no opening date in sight.

Frustration

The minutes from September and October 2019 reveal the frustration and disappointment among commission members at continued underfunding by the Department of Justice.

The DSS was established under the 2015 Assisted Decision Making Act, to support vulnerable adults – including those with intellectual disabilities, those with acquired brain injury and older people with impaired capacity – to make decisions including, for example, how to spend their money or whether to get married.

Currently such adults may become subject to the Victorian-era system where they are made a “ward of court”, often at the instigation of family or carers. Decisions are made on their behalf by the High Court or a court-appointed committee until or unless they make a successful case to exit the system.

More than 3,000 adults in Ireland are wards under the 1871 Lunacy Regulation Act with the number of new wards “appearing to be on the increase”, according to the commission.

The situation is considered by many an infringement of these adults’ human rights, particularly since Ireland ratified the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2018.

A spokesman for the department said: “Every effort is being made by the department to ensure implementation of the DSS can progress based on the funding allocated, and is fully committed to working with the DSS in this regard.”

In 2018, the MHC sought €10.3 million from the department to establish the DSS, but was allocated €3.5 million. In 2019, it sought €9.1 million but was allocated €3.5 million. This “is not enough to commence the DSS in 2020”, the commission said over the weekend.

Funding

The September 2019 minutes of the MHC meeting record its “serious concern” about the continued delay in opening the service. “It was agreed that without a fully funded and time bound plan the commission cannot commit to a specific date for delivery of the service.”

In October 2019, “members expressed their general disappointment with the allocation. It was noted that on the basis of funding and a number of other external matters that have not been progressed the DSS will not now be operational by Q4 2020. It was agreed the commission could not commit to a new implementation date”.

In a statement, commission chairman John Saunders said: “It is our view that full commencement of the 2015 Act – including the launch of the DSS – will bring tremendous benefits to all adults who have difficulties with their decision-making capacity, and those who care for them.” Over 200,000 adults could benefit, according to department figures.

“Further delay may lead to disenchantment and a developing narrative that ‘this is never going to happen’. It also means that informal, unregulated arrangements will continue, and it is within this grey area that safeguarding concerns can arise,” said Mr Saunders.